Difference Between Foster and Adoption

The main difference between foster and adoption is legal responsibility. 

The local authority and a child’s birth family have legal responsibility for children in foster care.  With adoption, the adoptive parents take on legal responsibility for the child, and the legal relationship between the child and their birth family ends.

For children in foster care, legal status depends on the care order that has been granted for the child.  Under the Children Act 1989, a council can apply for a care order if it believes a child is suffering or is at risk of suffering significant harm.

There are three common care orders for children in foster care:

  • Section 20 – the child’s parents/family agree for the child to be taken into care on a voluntary basis.  This ‘permission’ can be withdrawn at any time
  • Interim Care Order – grants the local authority short-term (interim) shared parental responsibility
  • Full Care Order – same as an interim care order but lasts until a young person is 18 years old


Children subject to these proceedings are represented by a children’s guardian appointed by Cafcass.  This is an independent person appointed to promote the child’s welfare and ensure that the arrangements made for the child are in their best interests.

Appointing a guardian is less common for children under an adoption order, providing the court is satisfied that the interests of the child are protected


On average, it takes 2 years and 3 months for a child to be adopted

2022 gov.uk statistics


Other key differences between adoption and fostering

Legal responsibility is the main difference between fostering and adoption, but there are a few other key differences you should know about.

Adoption is mostly for very young children (under 4), although older children can be adopted too.  Adoptive parents must complete a thorough assessment which usually takes 4-6 months, but the matching process can take 6-18 months.

Fostering is for supporting children of all ages, although most tend to be over 5 years old.  Fostering assessments usually take 4-5 months to complete, but the fostering matching process is much faster, usually a month or two at most.

Another key difference is the length of time a child requires care.  For Adoption, the child should be staying with the applicants permanently, whereas there are many different types of fostering depending on a child’s needs.

Currently almost a third (32%) of children live with our foster carers on a long-term basis, which means until independence.  Long-term fostering is different to adoption, as foster carers are paid career-level allowances for the care they provide.


Enquire with a local fostering agency todayBoy with Jetpack



Choosing between adoption and fostering

Adoption and fostering both make a wonderful difference in children’s lives.  But they are very different in their own ways.

Here are three questions to consider when deciding between adoption and fostering:


What age of children do I want to care for?

If you are thinking about parenting a very young child under 4 years old to raise as part of your family, adoption is probably the right option for you.

The latest government statistics (2022) show the average age of a child adopted was 3 years and 3 months old.  Remember adoption should be final, so you will be committing to be the parent for that child permanently.

If you want to make a difference to vulnerable children of all ages who have not experienced childhood as they should, perhaps fostering is a better fit for you.

The average age of a child living with our families is currently 10 (as of November 2022).  Most children who need foster care will be aged 6-16, but there are younger children who need foster care too.  Amanda and Stephen were supporting a brother and sister aged 2 and 3 just a few weeks after being approved!

As a foster carer you could help dozens of children, like Maureen from Falkirk who fostered hundreds of youngsters during her fostering career.



What support will I receive?

Adopters in England can apply for support from the Adoption Support Fund.  This starts with an assessment by the local authority to look at your family’s support needs.

You will be classed as the legal parent, so it’s important that you are happy with the post-adoption support on offer.

Foster carers are considered as professionals.  We provide 24/7 phone support, in-house support services for young people including birth children, and our very own specialist in-house therapy team, as well as full training.

Foster carers are also paid career-level allowances, although there is no payment when you are not looking after a child.

Adopters will not receive a regular allowance, but they may be able to access some financial support from their agency.


What skills and experience do I have to offer?

Similar skills are used by adoptive and foster parents, but some are in more demand than others.

For example, if you have a wealth of experience with troubled youth and teenagers, then fostering needs you.

If your skill set is with toddlers or babies and you want that long term commitment, adoption will likely give you that.

However, fostering can also be long term.  The average length of time a child lives with our foster carers is 2.5 years and long-term fostering is a preference for many families.


There is a shortage of 9,265 foster carers in the UK

The Fostering Network


For further reading about adoption from a trustworthy source, we recommend checking our Coram BAAF or Adoption UK Charity.

To learn more about fostering you can book a call with us by making an enquiry online, or call us directly on 0800 5 677 677.


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